They also serve

9 Apr 2021

This blog came from the experience of not being wanted. Stop! Rewind: actually it’s about not being required!

During the first lockdown last year retired doctors like me were requested by the government to assist in the national struggle against covid-19. I was more than happy to apply. I relished the thought of being useful and the buzz that would come from being part of a clinical team in a healthcare setting again.

I retired in less than ideal circumstances more than a decade ago, early on mental health grounds, after battling to stay at work despite bipolar depressions and long absences. There was nothing to mark my exit, as I made the decision to leave during a period of sick leave and thus my last day at work turned out to have been some months earlier.

Although it wasn’t my fault, I felt guilty about ‘dropping out’, mainly on the grounds of unfulfilled potential which equated to ‘didn’t try hard enough’ and therefore was my fault! I’ve always tended to minimise the consequences of my own mental ill health, probably because my parents always did. And I achieved, despite experiencing much of what psychiatry had to offer from my teens onwards.

I have been well for several years and still feel capable. So I welcomed the call for retired doctors to come forward, with its hint of redemption. I was contacted almost immediately, gave my details and waited. I’m still waiting! (As are three quarters of the doctors who applied then).The inescapable conclusion must be that I’m past it, obsolete – which makes everything I did when I was working seem inconsequential, as if I needn’t have bothered for all the good it did.

Then I put things into a more realistic perspective. I know I had the potential to achieve more in my job, but for potential to be realised other things have to be right and not all of them were. The majority of applicants were not used: they couldn’t all be bad. Anyway, superwomen are not normal. Things actually get done by team effort and job satisfaction comes from being part of a team. Add a sprinkling of insight, a drop of (self) love and a dollop of acceptance and you can sail (or crawl) through.

There’s a poem by Milton, ‘Ode to his blindness’, which I have recalled in some low spots. It speaks to anyone laid low by age or illness or circumstance – anyone who can’t reach their potential. Milton went blind in his old age and was able to do very little in comparison with his sighted self. The last line, as he comes to terms with his changed situation, is ‘... they also serve who only stand and wait’.


A Moodscope member.

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